A Reflection on Forty-Five Years of Ordained Ministry

On this day forty-five years ago, September 21, 1975, I was ordained into the Christian Ministry of Word and Sacrament at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, in Newton Highlands, Massachusetts. I was 26.

I had had my ecclesiastical council weeks before and waited for a call for a church before I could be ordained. Late in the summer it came. I was called to be the pastor of the Congregational Churches of Limerick and West Newfield, a “Two-point charge” serving two small congregations nine miles apart in the Northwest corner of York County, Maine. I had preached my neutral pulpit sermon in nearby Fryeburg, and a candidating sermon in each of the two churches.

I remember my ordination vividly. The church secretary, Irene Fultz, had designed. printed and mailed out the invitations. My family was there. My Associate Conference Minister, Oliver Powell, was there. The Reverend Joanne Hartunian, represented the Metropolitan Boston Association. The Reverend Meredith (Jerry) B. Handspicker, presided over the Laying on of Hands, and gave the Prayer of Ordination (after the ordained ministers were assembled he invited the whole congregation to participate, the first time I had seen this. It is commonplace now in the UCC.) The Reverend Dudne M. Breeze gave the sermon. He admonished me to be a Minister of the Word of God. I now know how wise that counsel was and how hard it would be.

I served those two little churches for four years and have never been happier. I married Martha while there and those churches threw us a big party. I trained as an EMT and became a firefighter.

Next, we went to Bangor, where I was Chaplain at Bangor Theological Seminary and Associate Pastor of the Hammond Street Church, United Church of Christ. There I ministered to students and congregants. I was a founder of Maine Clergy and Laity Concerned (CALC) a national anti-war organization. I chaired the Social Justice Committee of the Maine Council of Churches.

Finally, I came to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, in 1982 to be the Pastor of the First Church of Christ in Pittsfield. I had three sabbaticals from there: Oxford (1989), St Andrews (1995) and Cambridge (2000). I studied and wrote articles and books while on those wonderful respites from active ministry.

I stayed in Pittsfield for twenty-two years and would have stayed longer if I hadn’t sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in a bicycle accident and had to retire early on disability.

After that I eventually discovered a new chapter as a writer. I started this blog, I wrote devotions for the United Church of Christ, and found a new ministry of the Word in my words.

So, there you have it. Here I am 45 years later. I once kept count of how many weddings I officiated at, but I have lost count well into several hundred. The same for baptisms, confirmations. I can’t count the hospital visits, the funerals and graveside committals I was part of. I’ve held people’s hands in Rehab Facilities and Psychiatric Wards. I’ve put my arms around people in overwhelming grief. I’ve been humbled by theses encounters.

I have heard numerous confessions. I have listened to more kinds of human consternation and misery than you can imagine. I have also been privileged to be part of people’s lives at some of their more poignant moments. I have shared many joys and sorrows. I have “wept with those who weep, and rejoiced with those who have rejoiced.” (Romans 12:15)

I have led countless Bible Studies and other courses for adults. I have authored “A Course in Basic Christianity” for adults. I think of it as a course to teach you “everything you should have learned in Confirmation Class, but probably didn’t because you had your mind on other things.”

I’ve valued the relationships of my clergy friends and colleagues in the United Church of Christ and other Christian denominations. I served  the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ as their representative to the Massachusetts Commission on Christian Unity for twelve years. There, I made many friends and came to appreciate the richness of the “Great Church” of Jesus Christ.

I have also treasured the relationships I have had with my Jewish brothers and sisters in the clergy. We have become trusted friends and interlocators, and in that safe space of friendship have had rich and deep conversations about both what unites and divides us. It was a great honor that the family of my dear friend Rabbi Harold Salzmann asked me to speak at his funeral at Temple Anshe Amunin in Pittsfield last year.

I’ve witnessed people’s lives changed by their confrontation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And I, myself, have been profoundly changed by a life-long engagement with Jesus and his Gospel of freedom and grace. Jesus is still the most interesting and engaging piece of our faith, and after forty-five years he is still the one with whom I have to deal in thought and deed and prayer.

I have struggled to be faithful to the truth as I have known it. My reach has exceeded my grasp. I have pondered the deep things of the faith and have written countless articles, papers, and three and a half books. I have spent years trying to reform my denomination and restore its historic theological and ecumenical vision through leadership in such activities as the Confessing Christ movement, the Mercersburg Society, and the Craigville Colloquies.

I have also, to be quite honest, been a leader throughout my forty-five year ministry, in an enterprise that is in decline in institutional vigor and societal esteem. The schools where I received my masters and my doctorate are no longer there. The mainline church in whose rocky vineyard I have labored is smaller, poorer, and less respected than it was before I began. My last church, where I served for 22 years, is selling its grand gothic meeting house.

But I do not despair about this. God will not be left without witnesses. The church of the future, I believe, will be smaller, leaner, and more faithful. People won’t go because it’s “the thing to do” as it once was. They’ll go because they have found something of great value to which they are committed. Or they will go because they are searching for something important that seems missing in their lives, something more durable, something deeper than the shallow seductions and distractions of our consumer culture that values having more than being.

So, while I have regrets about my failings and limitations as a minister, I have none about choosing this calling and living it out for four and a half decades. My daughter has chosen to be a pastor, and I watch with awe at how gifted and faithful she is. It is young clergy such as she who give me much hope for the church of the future. I thank God for sustaining me through this long calling, and for calling me in the first place despite my manifold frailties and failures. To God be the glory.

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.” Amen. —Ephesians 3:20-21.

Reflections of an Old Motherless Child

My mother, Frances Irene Floyd, died on this day in 1967, 53 years ago. She was 53. She has been gone as long as she lived. I was 18 when she died and I am now 71. I have outlived her by 18 years.

I always think of her on this day and on her birthday on March 4th. Being a motherless child for most of my life has shaped me in ways I know and also in unknown ways. One way it has shaped me is my persistent sense that bad things are about to happen. When someone gets a diagnosis of a disease, I generally have a pessimistic view of their chances, against all evidence. This bewilders me, because I am a hopeful person. Perhaps thinking the worse is a protective mechanism. Who knows?

Mostly, I think of what she missed out on. She never knew my wife or children or my brother’s wife and children. She knew none of her 7 grandchildren or her 4 great-grandchildren. Both my wife’s parents are alive and have rich and full relationships with their grandchildren and great grandchildren. She didn’t get that. She was cheated.

I wrote a tribute to her 10 years ago that you can find here. I excerpt some of it here and bring it up to date:

My mother’s older sister, Grace, outlived her by 40 years. She’s died now too, as has my Dad, so there is hardly anyone who even remembers her. But I do.

She was told by her doctor in September of 1966 that she had about three months to live, and she said,  “Nonsense, I will live to see my daughter and son graduate (from college and high school respectively) next spring, and she did, although she was in a wheelchair.  My sister was engaged to be married, and the date was moved up to early September in the hopes Mom could participate. She couldn’t, since she was in the hospital dying.

The day of the wedding, my Dad, my kid brother, and I left immediately after the reception, still in our morning suits, full of champagne punch (at least I was), to visit her in the hospital with a fist full of Polaroid photos to show her of the wedding.  She was delighted, but didn’t have much energy to enjoy them.

A few days later I said my goodbyes to her (though far too much remained unsaid) and then I traveled 1400 miles away to go to college.

Two weeks later she died, and I came home for the funeral. No single event in my life as her early death has had such an impact on the rest of my life.

Her short life was in many ways remarkable for a woman of her generation.  She was born in Oklahoma City and grew up in Wichita, Kansas, where she went to college, a rare thing for women in the 1930’s.  She became a librarian, one of the few vocations open to women back then, along with teachers and nurses.  After graduation she got a job at the Wichita Public Library.

She was a dreamer and what we once called a bookworm. She always had her nose in a book, and expanded her rather conscribed universe through her imagination.  Her parents were good people, pious Midwestern Protestants, and she lived at home with them throughout her mid-twenties, as unmarried women were expected to.

But she wanted more out of life.  She dreamed about far off places she had read about in books.  She dreamed of the England of Jane Austin and Dorothy Sayers. And like many Americans in her day from the cultural hinterlands she dreamed of New York City, then in its heyday, where Dortothy Parker and James Woolcott could exchange bon mots in the Algonquin Club.  It was a far cry from Wichita. By her late twenties she was considered an “old maid,” most likely never to be married.  She wasn’t accepting any of this.

So, she decided to change her life.  Against her parents’ wishes she applied to Columbia Library School (now sadly gone), arguably the best in the country, and when she got in, she went.  She packed her suitcase and took the train by herself to New York, and got a room at the International House near Riverside Church and never looked back.

She loved New York. Like so many people who go there she had big dreams.  She wanted to be a writer, and scribbled short stories in her spare time.  I have many of them. They are not particularly good, overly self-conscious and somewhat formal in style, but they are interesting and really not bad. She was a good writer, but she tried others’ voices and never found her own. She used to joke that she had rejection slips from all the best periodicals.  One of her grandsons is a writer and won an O’Henry Award a few years ago for one of the years’ best short stories. She would have liked that.

When she graduated from Columbia she got a job at the New York Public Library on Forty-Second Street, and went to work every day between the storied lions. There she got such a good reputation for cataloguing books that she was asked from time to time to do it for the Library of Congress.

She became an Episcopalian, which I expect didn’t go down too well with her folks back in Wichita, in a day when anti-Catholicism was still an ugly feature of much of Protestantism, though to be fair, I never heard any of it from them.

She met my Dad, a handsome intellectual Bostonian, while she was working at a summer job at the University of New Hampshire, where he was teaching while a Ph.D. candidate back at Columbia. They discovered they both lived in New York, and when they got back to the City they started dating, and eventually married.

I am the second of their three children.  My sister and I were born in New York City and my kid brother was born in New Jersey, where we moved when my parents realized that New York wasn’t a terrific place to raise kids, especially when you had limited means.

Church was important to my mother and she was on the altar guild and worked on the annual bazaar, and baked pies for the Bake Sale, and if we were lucky she might make one for us.

She was a proto-feminist in a quiet way.  My sister went to Vassar when it was a women’s college, and my mom was very proud of her.  Nearly thirty years later my own daughter graduated from Wellesley College, and I thought of my mother on that day, too, although she would have been equally proud of my son’s graduation, for she was nothing if not fair.  And what would she make now of my daughter becoming a parish pastor?

When we were growing up in the suburbs she took a job as a librarian in a middle school nearby. Her students loved her and she encouraged them all to read, read, read. I suspect she often quietly overlooked a library fine on an overdue book if it was a hardship for the student’s family to pay it.

I wrote a paper about my love of mystery novels, another passion she passed on to me.  I mentioned her in it and got this remarkable anonymous comment: “If your mother was the Mrs. Floyd who was the Wandell librarian in the ’60s, I remember her! She was wonderful. In fact, I use FLOYD as a password on book-related websites (what greater homage?).”

She has been gone from my life for so long I can’t recall her voice, and I can remember her appearance mostly from old pictures. I sometimes glimpse something of her in the faces of my daughter and my two nieces, and see inklings of her ways when they labor at crossword puzzles or slaughter one another at Scrabble.

I am grateful for the years I had with her. She gave me words, books, music, a dry sense of humor and above all, faith.  She also gave me a lively sense of the communion of saints, and makes me acutely aware of our connection to those who have gone before us and help make us who we are.

(Photo: My Mom with my younger brother. L.C. Floyd)

Dudne M. Breeze (1938-2020) A Remembrance

Greetings from the Berkshire Hills. I’m Rick Floyd and I’m Pastor Emeritus of the First Church of Christ in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.

It will be 50 years ago next year that I walked down the Andover Newton hill and took the MBTA from Newton Centre to Newton Highlands for a job interview to run a coffee house at the Newton Highlands Congregational Church.

I was twenty-two and a new college graduate and a first-year student at seminary. I wasn’t sure what I was doing there. I had more questions than answers, and was searching for something, and I wasn’t sure what for. My mother had died when I was eighteen and I was still a bit lost.

When I got off the T and walked the one block to the church it was dark, and I was comforted by the sight of a lighted stained-glass window. I was a child of the church and it felt like home.

That night when I met the committee, I met two people who would change my life. One was Martha Talis, a youth representative to the Youth Ministry Committee, and now my wife of 44 years, and the other was Pastor Dudne Breeze.

I liked Dudne immediately. He met me where I was, and supported me in my coffee house ministry. After that first year I told him I wasn’t sure about a calling to ministry and whether I should stay in seminary. He offered to let me do a year’s internship with him, and so I did. I shadowed him for a while as he made his pastoral rounds, and then he turned me loose to go by myself. That year I preached my first sermon. I wrote my first pastoral prayer. I attended my first church meetings. I led a Bible Study.

It was a trap, of course, I see now, but by the end of that year what had seemed like a sane possibility seemed a providential inevitability. I had a calling.

I stayed at the church for three years and watched and learned from Dudne. Four years after that first interview, I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament in that church. Dudne preached the sermon. He admonished me to be “A Minister of the Word of God.” Only years later did I realize how wise that was, and how hard that would be. The next year he officiated at my wedding to Martha.

What was it about Dudne that made him such a good model and mentor? For one thing, he was comfortable in his own skin, and never tried to be something he wasn’t. He never condescended to me. He always listened. Sometimes he would say, “There’s a lot of truth to what you are saying.” He modeled for me a ministry of encouragement that I tried to emulate in my own ministry.

Dudne was wise as well as smart. He always had my back. When I preached my first sermon, I owned no dress shoes, so I wore my new work shoes under my borrowed pulpit robe. One of the ladies in the choir told me that it didn’t bother her, but “other people” had complained that I wasn’t attired properly. I told Dudne about her comment, and he said, “Ah. The old form over content disease.”

Dudne was a thoughtful and engaging preacher and I learned much of what is good about my own preaching from him. In the parsonage in Newton Highlands there was a guest bedroom, sometimes used by his mother-in-law. Dudne read voraciously and would clip articles from newspapers and magazines that he thought he might use in a sermon. He would toss the clippings into the bathtub in the guest room for research later. Unfortunately, when his mother-in-law visited, he had to gather them all up.

Dudne supervised numerous Andover Newton Theological School seminarians and he was also adjunct professor of homiletics. He mentored many of them, and a number of them were ordained at the Newton Highlands Church.

He was a kind and compassionate pastor. He walked beside me through some tough times in my life. He was always ready to answer my youthful questions with clear and concise answers. I once asked him what God is like? He said “God is like Jesus!” I once asked him if God punishes us for our sins? He said, “Sin is its own punishment.”

After my graduation Dudne remained a valued friend and interlocutor of mine. He and Gail visited us many times, as they had previously served a congregation in Pittsfield and loved the Berkshires. We shared many meals, many lively conversations, and even went skiing with them.

He always like to tell the story of coming down to the breakfast table early one morning and my daughter Rebecca was there with a book. She must have been five or six. She said, “What are you reading, Dudne?” My daughter, now a United Church of Christ pastor, was once an active member of your congregation in Cambridge, where she reconnected with Dudne and Gail. They came to her ordination in Westport, CT in 2013. I have a lovely picture someone took from the balcony of Dudne laying hands on my daughter as he once did at my ordination thirty seven years earlier.

When I started my own pastorates, Dudne was one of my go-to phone calls whenever I found myself in the “deep weeds” of pastoral ministry.

Dudne really loved his family. I recall visiting him at the parsonage one evening before he put the boys to bed, and he was roughhousing on the floor with them to squeals of delight, while Gail calmly went about her business. He was devoted to Gail, whom he often called “The Lithuanian.” I once asked him what the secret of a good marriage was and he said, “Marry a Lithuanian!”

His son Andy wrote a lovely letter about him that said Dudne had “a life well lived.” I heartily agree with that, and I would add that his was no only a life well-lived, but “a life well-lived” with great enthusiasm.

Dudne loved life. He loved not only his family and his calling, but also ideas. He read voraciously and subscribed to numerous magazines. He was intellectually curious and always interested and open to the new. He loved the movies, especially off-beat avant-garde ones. He put me on to Martin Scorese’s very first film, “Mean Streets.” He loved to go to Harvard Square to watch a film.

He loved cities and all the cultural amenities they offered. He had gone to Union Theological Seminary in New York City toward the end of its heyday, and he had been friends with some avant-garde artists such as Al Carmines of Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in Greenwhich Village. He loved jazz and recalled his student days in New York where he could go to jazz clubs and hear Miles Davis and Billie Holliday. Dudne could spend hours perusing the used books at the legendary “Strand Bookstore.”

Dudne had a great sense of humor, a great big laugh, and also a wry little chuckle. His signature parting was an enthusiastic “See you soon!”

Now Dudne joins that great cloud of witnesses who surround us as we walk in our faith journey. I give thanks to God for him. I will miss him. I’m not sure what happens to us after we die, but my faith assures me that someday we will be reunited in Christ. So, my friend, Goodbye for now: “See you soon!”

(These are my words of remembrance for Dudne M. Breeze at his Memorial Service at First Church of Christ in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on September 12, 2020. My remarks were recorded in Pittsfield, MA.)

Forty-five years in Ministry and I’m Finally a Televangelist! My YouTube Debut.

I filled in to lead worship for my pastor daughter today. Her amazing worship team put together an engaging and inspirational multi-media worship experience unlike any I have ever been a part of. It’s a new world we are living in, and my message was about how I have taken the lessons I have learned from my brain injury to think about life after the Pandemic. How we might use our religious imaginations to see what “new normal” might look like, because in the life of faith there is no going back:

“It was twenty years ago today” My Life with Traumatic Brain Injury

Ride leader. BCA Wednesday Ride

On August 5, 2000 I set off to ride the Greylock Century Ride, a grueling 100 mile ride through the Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts. I had already gone up and over Mt. Greylock, the highest point in the state, and up the famous “Hairpin Turn” on Route 2, “The Mohawk Trail.”

At mile 33 I found myself off the road in a drainage ditch  (I found out later they are called “paved waterways” and are designed to keep then snow melt off the road.) The waterway led to a grate. It was too steep to ride back on the road or onto the shoulder so I literally went head over heels onto the pavement, still clipped into my pedals. Continue reading

“Imagining our New Normal?”

“Behold I make all things new!” – Revelation 21:5

Twenty years ago my life changed forever in an instant when I flew over the handlebars of my bicycle and landed on my head. Like Humpty Dumpty I “couldn’t be put back together again.” The name for my new situation is traumatic brain injury (TBI), the injury so many of our troops return with from war. Continue reading

A New Cocktail: The “Berkshire Quarantine”

Here’s a first for my blog, a cocktail. This was invented just now by my son Andrew, who is telecommuting in my downstairs. Serves two.

Mix in a shaker:

3 Shots Southern Comfort

1 Shot rye whisky

1 Shot sweet vermouth

1 Shot Bartlett’s Orchards apple cider

1 dash of orange bitters

Garnish with a cinnamon stick and an orange twist

Serve on the rocks or straight up!